A grim view of the NHLPA and where the NHL is headed

If you haven’t gotten to following the New York Post’s Larry Brooks by now, it’s tough to say you’re keeping tabs on the NHL very closely. Ever since the NHL stepped up to challenge the NHLPA over Ilya Kovalchuk’s contract, Brooks has been the lone voice amongst team scribes to express what a dire situation this is for the players association. In his column today, he again picks up his journalistic drumsticks and continues the drum beat declaring doom and gloom on the horizon for the NHL and its players this time based around the NHLPA quibbling over attorney costs to fight the Kovalchuk grievance.

Indeed, Slap Shots has learned that union front-office personnel, including Fehr, expressed concern over the cost of attorneys’ fees in the Kovalchuk arbitration before turning to John McCambridge, a Saskin loyalist, who had been part of the 2004-05 negotiating committee but had not been involved in union business in years and who was no match at all for the estimable Bob Batterman, the league’s Crosby/Ovechkin among its stable of all-star lawyers.

It is stunning that Fehr was unable to recognize that the price of victory would be nothing compared to the cost of defeat. It is outrageous that the union would have quibbled over the equivalent of pennies when weighed against the nullification of a $102 million contract of one of its dues-paying, escrow-contributing marquee members.

It is, however, indicative of the headless operation that seems simply to be awaiting the slaughter in the next round of collective bargaining two years hence.

This is what happens when the union spends its resources looking behind and fighting old battles instead of preparing for the future and a new engagement against an all-powerful commissioner who remains ruthlessly committed to his vision of a hard-cap, lowest-common-denominator league.

Cold, harsh words from a writer who is very easily the biggest supporter of the NHLPA in all of the media. While we understand that talking about a potentially ugly labor war two years away from it happening may not be fun to read, nor may it be all that engaging, it’s better to have the discussion out there. Even though it’s a case of millionaires squabbling with billionaires over a Scrooge McDuck-sized pile of money, it cuts to the heart of the matter that this is a sport we all enjoy watching that gets spoiled by wealthy folks fighting over who gets more money and the only people that lose in a labor war are the fans.

After all, it was the fans that missed out watching hockey back in 2004-2005 when the owners locked out the players to crush them in labor negotiations and when they settled on things a year and half later, the fans were promised ticket price rollbacks and all sorts of other things to win them over again. While the game has again been made enjoyable to watch thanks to the league mostly adhering to its own rule book again, making the game cost friendly for fans never came. Ticket prices stayed the same or went up dramatically, the cost of merchandise is higher than it ever was and all this goes on while North America has dealt with an economic crunch that leaves regular folks with less flexible income. Yet here the fans are making sure that attendance is as good as it ever was for the most part. Perhaps we all deserve each other so let’s just forget about that potential labor war in 2012 and just feel free to call each other suckers instead.

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    Pre-game reading: Does the NHL’s playoff format need fixing?

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    — Up top, Brian Boucher and Mike Milbury have their say on NHL participation in the Olympics, something Gary Bettman continues to put into doubt.

    — At least fans can still be certain there will be playoff hockey. That being said, does the NHL’s format need fixing? Because as it stands right now, at least one of Washington, Pittsburgh, or Columbus is guaranteed to be gone after the first round, and only one of those three can survive past the second round. The Capitals, Penguins, and Blue Jackets are first, second, and third in the overall standings, respectively. Hence, the debate. (The Washington Post)

    — The Caps take on the Blue Jackets tonight in D.C., and Barry Trotz is looking forward to the fight for playoff positioning. The Caps, you’ll recall, coasted to first place in the Metro Division last season. But they can’t afford to coast now. “Having gone both routes now, I prefer this,” Trotz said. “Because it’s more meaningful. … It was in our hands too early last year, and I think it took a little edge off. You get too comfortable for too long, you get too soft.” (Washington Post)

    — Don’t expect the NBA’s controversial practice of resting star players to become a common problem for the NHL. Said Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty: “I just think hockey’s a different kind of animal where I don’t think guys would want to do it. Guys are stubborn enough to probably fight it if they were asked and that’s how I would see that going down.” (Canadian Press)

    — Why Dave Hakstol won’t be fired, by Flyers beat reporter Dave Isaac, who writes: “It took multiple pleas to woo Hakstol from a much more comfortable college job at the University of North Dakota. To fire Hakstol this early would be an admission from Hextall that this part of his grand plan — hiring the coach that he thought would grow with the roster — was wrong.” (Courier-Post)

    William Nylander may sometimes get overshadowed in Toronto by fellow Maple Leafs rookies Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. But with 20 goals in 70 games, what Nylander has done is still very impressive. (The Hockey News)

    Enjoy the games!

    Bowling Green goalie Nell leaves school, signs with Rangers

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    The Blueshirts added to their goaltending depth on Thursday, signing Bowling Green junior Chris Nell to an entry-level contract.

    Nell, 22, just wrapped his junior campaign at Bowling Green, going 17-14-2 with a 2.15 GAA and .916 save percentage. This year, he became the school’s all-time leader in career shutouts, this after a terrific sophomore campaign in which he finished with a sparking 1.31 GAA and .930 save percentage.

    An undrafted free agent, Nell now joins an organization with several young netminders in the mix. Mackenzie Skapski, a 2013 draftee, made his NHL debut two years ago but has struggled this season, splitting time between AHL Hartford and ECHL Greenville. Brandon Halverson, a second-rounder in ’14, has also split time between Hartford and Greenville, and was recently recalled to New York on an emergency basis.

    New York has also drafted Russian netminder Igor Shesterkin (fourth round, ’14), Slovak Adam Huska (seventh round, ’15) and UMass-Lowell product Tyler Wall (sixth round, ’16).

     

    On verge of missing playoffs, Red Wings aim to keep winning culture

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    The Detroit Red Wings have no intention of tearing their roster down and undertaking a painful rebuild, a la the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    Why not, you ask?

    Because even though the Wings are going to miss the playoffs for the first time since 1990, and even though their leading scorer (Henrik Zetterberg) is 36 years old, they don’t want to lose the culture that made them so successful over the past quarter century.

    “There are organizations where they have lost culture,” said head coach Jeff Blashill, per the Detroit Free Press. “They have missed the playoffs, and they miss it 10 straight years. We don’t want to be in this position again. This isn’t OK. That is the approach we are taking every day.”

    We have heard other teams say similar things. For example, the Vancouver Canucks. (Which won’t make Wings fans feel great to hear.)

    While there’s nothing wrong with trying to maintain a winning culture, the biggest challenge the Wings have is a lack of talent — particularly on the back end.

    That’s up to GM Ken Holland to solve, and solve relatively quickly, given his lack of appetite for a lengthy rebuild.

    “We’re going to continue to try and be competitive, we’re going to continue to try and make the playoffs and our ultimate goal is to eventually be a Cup contender,” Holland said a few months ago.

    “To me, rebuild means eight to 10 years, and there are teams that have made the playoffs one year in 10 while rebuilding.”

    Related: It’s going to be a very different draft for the Red Wings

    Yeo more surprised than anyone to learn of Stastny injury

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    For the second time since taking over as head coach, Mike Yeo has lost the services Paul Stastny.

    This time, though, Yeo was caught off guard.

    “It may sound misleading, but it was a completely separate injury that kept him out of (Tuesday’s) game and one that we believed would have him possibly in the lineup for us tonight,” Yeo told the Post-Dispatch of Stastny’s lower-body ailment, which will keep him out week-to-week. “We were surprised to hear that this came about yesterday.

    “Believe me, I was probably more surprised than all the fans out there. So it’s a difficult one, but one that we’ll have to overcome.”

    Stastny was limited to less than four minutes of ice time during Tuesday’s 4-2 win against the Colorado Avalanche. Initially, Yeo indicated that the issue wasn’t serious — and it very well may not haven been — but that’s irrelevant now, as an entirely new issue could potentially sideline Stastny for the remainder of the regular season.

    The Blues are in good shape for a playoff spot, up eight points on L.A., but are jockeying with Nashville for third spot in the Central Division (both head into tonight’s action with 83 points). St. Louis also has 10 games left.

    There’s no denying Stastny’s absence will be felt. Back when he missed four games in early February, Yeo noted how integral he was to the club.

    “He’s usually the first guy over the boards for a power-play faceoff or the first guy over the boards for a penalty-kill faceoff, and those are key,” Yeo said, per the Blues website. “He’s a very important player for us. You don’t take out a top-line center from too many lineups where they don’t feel that.”

    Limited to just 66 games this season, Stastny has still managed to score 18 goals — third-most on the team — and 40 points. He also averages a healthy 19:08 TOI per night.